Friday, November 10, 2006

Borat:Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Hi all! Your Racist Friend has returned with a review of a film about a real "racist friend." I'm of course talking about Borat Sagdiyev, of the number one film in the country, Borat. Borat is the story of Borat Sagdiyev (Sascha Baron Cohen), a TV reporter from Kazakhstan. Borat likes swimming, table tennis, disco dancing, degrading women, and hating on Jews and gypsies. The film is a mockumentary of Borat's journey to America with his producer Azamat, to make a documentary for benefit of Kazakhstan. Whence there, he sees Pamela Anderson on a rerun of Baywatch, falls in love with her, and decides to travel to California to make her his bride. Needless to say, wackiness ensues.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding Borat, and it has only grown with the opening of the film. After a stunning opening weekend where the film netted over 26 million dollars in a mere 837 screens, FOX is expanding the opening to 2,500 screens. A lot of people are saying that Borat is one of the funniest movies they've ever seen, and I say this: Believe the hype. Borat is at least the funniest movie I've seen since South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut. I attended a 5:00 screening last Monday, and the theater was very full despite the oddball time. The audience (myself included) laughed uproariously, and very frequently. There was more funny material than in 95% of most comedies, and it came a lot faster. Cohen and his collaborators have created an inspired mix that borrows from Peter Sellers, Jackass, Monty Python, and Charlie Chaplin, among others. We've seen Borat before on Cohen's very funny It's Da Ali G Show, Innit?, but Cohen has more opportunity for the impish Borat to run amok across America. The specific language choices and odd angles at which Cohen launches jokes is no small boon to the humor in the film. Like Rocky Marciano punching his opponents in the arms to drop their guard, the things that come out of Borat's mouth are odd and hilarious.
Much has been made of the Borat character's anti-Semitism, with the debate originating with the infamous "Throw The Jew Down The Well" segment from Ali G. The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations have argued that some people don't have the perception to realize that Cohen is making fun of those "sentiments." First off, Borat is portrayed by a man named SASCHA BARON COHEN. If that's not a Jewish name, I've never heard one. Second of all, Borat's attitude against Jewish people is far from subtle. It crosses beyond simple prejudice and ignorance, and crosses into superstitious nonsense that any adult of at least average intelligence should be able to see right through. And therein lies the secret theme of Borat: intolerance sucks, and so does ignorance. I feel that this film won't be well received in red states, since Cohen doesn't pull any punches. Consider the scene in which Borat is told by the manager of a rodeo that he looks "too much like a terrorist," and would benefit from shaving off his mustache, since it would make him able to "pass as an I-talian." Also, Borat is a buffoon, like Beavis and Butthead. The key thing is that even though Borat is hopelessly anti-semitic, misogynist, and homophobic, his naive nature prevents the character from going "too far," and alienating the audience.
Some scenes to watch for include:
-Borat visits a "humor specialist" in New York.
-Borat shows just how clumsy he can be......in an antique shop.
-Borat stops for the night in a bed and breakfast........run by an elderly Jewish couple.
-Azamat commits an unspeakable act, ands a sequence ensues that rivals the infamous "Mr. Creosote" sketch from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life in terms of hilarity and shock value.
In closing, I would like to say that I found Borat much funnier than so-called "comedy classics" like Modern Times or Life Is Beautiful (THAT movie will be getting a special drubbing on this site from me very, very soon). Borat is a hilarious film, and more fun than anything I've seen all year. I give Borat:Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan a 20 out of 22 on the 22 scale....and it earned every point.

Memorable Quotes:

Driver's Ed Teacher-"In America, a woman can choose whom she has sex with."
Borat-"WHAAAATTT?????"

Borat-"What's up, vanilla face?"

Azamat-"We should go back to New York. At least there are no Jews there."

Borat-"This is Orkin, the town rapist! Naughty, naughty!"

69 comments:

Particle Man said...

i just saw it, and now i really wanna move to Canada. the biggest thing about the movie is that as ridiculous as Borat is, and as ridiculous the journery that he takes is, most of the Americans he encounters along the way are MORE ridiculous. what's sad (andfunny) is that he's an actor and they're not.

Anonymous said...

For the record, Baron Cohen is Jewish.
Regarding your views on Modern Times, I severely doubt Borat is going to appear as a 20 on the 22 scale in 70 years' time.
And while I don't have much of an experience travelling through "red states" in America, the fact Borat meets many Americans that are dumb is mainly a reflection on the fact there are 300 million Americans; statistically speaking, if you seek out the dumbest of those, you shall find them. Ignorance towards forigners and people who look foreign exists everywhere, sadly.
Besides, Canada's way too cold.

J. P. Hession said...

Is it really worth the exploitation, humiliation, and misdirection that the filmakers go through to make you laugh? Why aren't more people ashamed and outraged at this rotgut?

The poor Romanian village that they exploit to portray his nation as prostitutes and abortionists is probably the worst offense.

Someone trying to exploit America's racism and bigotry by exploiting everyone in their path, often by outright lying about what their up to is just plain wrong and not at all funny.

For shame!

Your Racist Friend said...

Moshe-
The point I'm making is that movies like City Lights, Modern Times, and other, say, top films on the imbd Top 250 are humorous, but not really all that funny. You don't really laugh a lot at them, with a few exceptions (Some Like It Hot, Arsenic and Old Lace). I laughed throughout the entirety of Borat. It may not be viewed as the "cinematic class" (Sorry, I can't stand Chaplin....I prefer Keaton) that Modern Times or City Lights is, but I find it to be a much purer comedy.

Hession-
I agree wholeheartedly. And if I ever meet Fred Phelps face to face, I intend to ask him teh same question.

Anonymous said...

With regards to Hession's comment:
There was this French philosopher, I believe, who said that art is basically a form of criticizing society - mainly its ruling echelons.
If you look at things this way - and personally, I do - Borat is doing a great service to the USA.

With regards to Chaplin: If you ask my father, for example, he would tell you that Chaplin films - which he saw mostly as a child - are hilarious non-stop laughs. While I agree with you on the number of actual laughs you'd get with them, I still think there's probably more wisdom in them than in Borat; and I still think that in 70 years time, people would probably not laugh as hard at Borat as we do now.
But anyway, generally speaking, I agree with your racist views.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I’m sure many American villages would line up for a chance at taking the place of that Romanian village, given the revenue potential involved with the film’s free publicity. Just imagine how much money the village’s gift shop is going to make!

Your Racist Friend said...

Heh. Well, there was a bit in the news today about how some factions of the village the opening sequence was filmed in were upset, and claimed that they had bene misrepresented. If that is true, which I think is strongly open for debate, then publicity is good for them......because it will draw at least SOME attention to the abject poverty they live in.

Yeah, Hession likes to make half-assed, ill-informed points on this board, then become oddly silent when challenged on a point. Nothing new under the sun.

J. P. Hession said...

Oddly silent? I just posted that yesterday. I don't LIVE on this board!

Now, if you want to call my comment half-assed and ill-informed, I guess that's your right, but I always put research and thought behind my comments, so if that is your assessment, then I am either very stupid or I'm just fomenting reaction.

I stand by my comment %100. What should worry us more:

1. That a team of clever con artist comedians can fool a handful of people into making jerks of themselves and misrepresent reality so it looks like America is one, big racist prostitute, and do it by in many cases exploiting and lying at the expense of others

OR

2. That millions of people are going and laughing at this rotgut that genuinely harms the reputation and intention of others and is mean-spirited against them?

It's ironic that he would dare to so blatently try to make a moral statement about our country by using his own sordid methods..and more ironic that the people watching miss the whole point.

The millions of people laughing at this give me more concern for America than the handful of people who were disingenously portrayed in the film.

Wicked Little Critta said...

As self-elected moderator, I have some things to say:
1. There's no reason why we can't all play nice.
2. I think that YRF and hession have more in common regarding this issue than one might think at first glance. The question isn't whether or not poor societies should be exploited, or whether or not certain intolerant ideologies should be upheld. I think the question is this: does comedy have a place in challenging these things? If yes, can things be taken too far?
I personally have a distaste for comedy that makes cheap shots at certain people groups on either side, and regardless of the point. But I haven't seen Borat, so I can't say much else.

Your Racist Friend said...

Yeah, that's a good point. Could people refrain from making comments on movies that they haven't seen? Personally? I have no sympathy for anybody dumb enough to spout racist/anti-Semitic sentiment on camera, as people did many times on the Ali G show, and in the film.

And I stand by what I said.....there are many, many instances on rebuttals to Hession on the board that he never responded to. And just for clarification, he DOES have the right to be what I consider bigoted and narrowminded.

J. P. Hession said...

???

I don't mind responding to people if they want to engage in thoughtful conversation, but there is a point where someone is not interested in interacting with ideas and statements in a realistic manner, and you've reached it. So why would I continue to respond? It's not ignoring..it's finding no value in continuing the conversation.

I have no reason to continue a debate with someone if they are not going to interact with any of my comments with substance. You just made emotion-driven denials of my position without supporting your side or even clearly expressing your side. I bore several verbal attacks from you without attacking back.

Your Racist Friend said...

Ok, then I'll go straight back, and address your initial point directly: What I said in the last post holds: if somebody gets caught on camera expressing a bigoted, racist sentiment.....too damn bad. It's POSSIBLE, however unlikely, that Michael Moore-esque editing trickery was used to provoke some reactions. But this country, as great as it is, is a sick place. Racism is still a huge problem, and civil injustice is running rampant in the wake of The Patriot Act.

And Hession? If I react to your comments with more venom than I would to others, it's because you have a history on these boards of standing in judgement on matters. You call more things "disgusting" than I don't know, and your bigoted comments on gay people in the past were way, way out of line. My sister is gay, you know, and it angers me when people comment on things they have no expertise on.

Dr. Worm said...

So I just saw Borat, and I think you're all right about it. It is funny. It is offensive. And it does benefit from America being a nation of 300 million people and the statistical likelihood that many of those people are crazy.
Although I think it does the movie a disservice to dismiss the people Borat interacts with as statistical outliers. Yes, the movie will lean toward showing those with more outrageous views, but we'd be naive to think that those are the ONLY ones in America who think that way.
Hession, I think you sell the movie short to just dismiss it as tasteless and exploitative. Cohen has actually made a fairly sharp satire here, and to discount that because you disagree with the manner or the method he went about in doing so is a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
And YRF, we know that you disagree with Hession on many matters, but I think we'd all appreciate it if you'd tone down your rhetoric some and refrain from making personal attacks. This discussion is supposed to be about the movie, not about us, after all.

Your Racist Friend said...

This is true DW, but I just can't help get annoyed by comments on film that focus solely on opinions of what's moral, and what's not....not to mention the aforementioned poor fact checking. I find it....odd....that CERTAIN members (read the articles about the lawsuit, not all the villagers are upset, and got the joke) of the Romanian village announced the lawsuit after the film was established as a huge success. And, if you read the article and have seen the film, their claims don't measure up.

"They claim film-makers lied to them about the true nature of the project, which they believed would be a documentary about their hardship, rather than a comedy mocking their poverty and isolation."

Puh-leaze. How would shots of the village children holding machine guns illustrate poverty? And a horse in Borat's "house"? Despite the low level of education, they should have realized that it was no documentary. This goes double for the frat boys who are suing the production, I think, mostly out of shame. It doesn't matter how much they drunk: I could drink, say, nine beers and have the stuff that came out of their mouth come out of mine, prompting or not. And considering the number of fraternity "initiations" that malke the news for allegations of abuse and other hazing, I'm not feeling too sympathetic towards them. And don't even started on Kazakhstan.....the media attention garnered by the feud with "Borat" has apparently been a big boon to tourism there.

Dr. Worm said...

I'm pretty sure you meant to write:

It doesn't matter how much they drunk: I could drink, say, nine beers and *NOT* have the stuff that came out of their mouth come out of mine, prompting or not.

But I agree with that premise: Saying "I was only a jackass because I thought no one would see it" isn't really a great defense.

Your Racist Friend said...

True dat. I really need to get my hands on today's Rolling Stone, with that elusive SBC interivew, so we can get more insight into his processes.

And I freaking *hate* how you can't edit comments on these boards.....

J. P. Hession said...

"Hession, I think you sell the movie short to just dismiss it as tasteless and exploitative. Cohen has actually made a fairly sharp satire here, and to discount that because you disagree with the manner or the method he went about in doing so is a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

Ahh, sweet relief. A thoughtful, clearly expressed disagreement. This I can interact with.

I will say that (from what I have heard) he has indeed constructed a clever satire. However, I will say that (from what I have heard), it is tasteless and exploitive.

So the great question comes in to play: is something tasteless and exploitive worth supporting? Is this a moral argument as Mr. Racist suggests? Yes indeed it is. And from my perspective, everything, including movies, is fair game for moral scrutiny.

Permit me an example:

Let's say that an automobile reviewer was reviewing a new sports utility vehicle that got 2 miles to the gallon and spewed out more polution into the air than any other vehicle made. But lets say that the vehicle itself is extremely good looking, comfortable, and an amazing ride.

The first point I'd like to make is that it is perfectly natural, and maybe even expected that this automobile reviewer doesn't restrict his comments to the looks and comfort and ride of the car, but that he also mention the impact of this car on humanity's collective lung.

The second point I'd like to make is that it would also not be so out of turn for that automobile reviewer to make a personal recommendation which says, "Is it a nice ride? Yes. Is it comfortable? Yes. Is it pretty? Yes. But for the sake of humanity, please don't purchase this vehicle because it is ultimately a diservice to the nation."

So...I am a movie critic. And in the same way it seems perfectly natural to point out things beyond the cleverness or funniness of the movie that I deem has a negative impact on humanity. And it further seems reasonable that I would suggest others not take part in it.

In other words, it is as natural for me to dismiss what I perceive as rotgut as it is for the auto critic to dismiss what he percieves as rotlung.

So, yes, you are right. In a way I am throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But I'm doing it because the baby's filth dirtied the water and the water failed to clean the baby.

J. P. Hession said...

Mr. Racist,


I'm a little perplexed as to why you claimed that I resorted to poor fact-checking multiple times. The first time was in a V-review where my facts lined up perfectly with what the author of the series said...that doesn't seem poor to me. And this time I have done enough research and seen enough news stories to verify that several different people from several different situations felt misled and exploited. The Romanians are just one instance.

"And Hession? If I react to your comments with more venom than I would to others, it's because you have a history on these boards of standing in judgement on matters."

Everyone does. You are standing in judgement of my opinion at this very moment. Our method and clarity of our judgement is however important.

"You call more things "disgusting" than I don't know"

That's because I think more things are disgusting than you.

"and your bigoted comments on gay people in the past were way, way out of line."

I'm not sure why you called me a bigot. Perhaps you can dig up the comments you were referring to. Everyone has opinions about right and wrong. Those who do it hatefully could maybe be called such names, but I don't think I've responded with any venom here before...just strong opinions clearly stated. Isn't tolerance one of your virtues?

"My sister is gay, you know, and it angers me when people comment on things they have no expertise on."

Well...first of all, I'm quite sure my comments had nothing to do with your sister. If I recall, which perhaps you can dig up here if interested, I was merely pointing out that a particular character was decrying the government's supressing of homosexuals and the Koran when today's worldwide landscape is more of or at least an equal supression of Christianity and the Bible.

J. P. Hession said...

and second of all, I have studied this issue far more than you can imagine, and it is you who are speaking without the facts to assume I know nothing about it. I have concluded through much, much research and thought that my opinions regarding the matter are the most positive for humanity and the most true...and I haven't even told you what those opinions are...you just assumed incorrectly that I was a bigot.

Dr. Worm said...

I'm going to ignore the comments to YRF and respond instead to the one addressed to me...

Your point is well-made. If someone had made the best movie of our generation but had slaughtered 100 infants in the process, I think all of us would stand up in judgment of that person. It's a question of the ends not justifying the means in this case. As most people would agree, one great movie is not worth the loss of 100 lives.

But there are cases where the means and ends are harder to calculate. Sometimes the means seem bad although they are for good ends--for example, murdering a person who has broken into your house and is intent on raping and killing your wife and children. In a vacuum, we'd all agree that murder is wrong, but it would be hard to stand in judgment of this poor person, who only killed in self-defense.

Borat falls in the same category, where each person has to objectively weigh the means and ends that went into the film, and then decide whether the good outweighs the bad.

First, the goods:
1. This movie made millions of people laugh. Certainly, laughter is a good thing. It has certain health benefits, and who doesn't enjoy a good laugh? The question is HOW good is laughter, and on this question I imagine opinions would diverge wildly.
2. This movie exposed some of the prejudice, intolerance, and hypocrisy that still thrives in America. If we can assume that this recognition leads to positive change, which I think it will, then this, too, is a good thing, though how good is still very subjective.

And the bads:
1. In the making of the movie, Baron Cohen managed to upset several people. Some were only mildly cheesed; others were moved to the point of wanting to sue. At least one woman lost her job. Certainly, there are negatives here, but how bad are these negatives, and do they outweigh the positives?
2. Baron Cohen uses curse words, sexual humor, and other crudeness in the film. This is something that some people would find unacceptable and others would see as not much of an issue at all.

So, there it is. Does the bad outweigh the good? Clearly, Hession thinks it does, while YRF thinks it does not. In both cases, it's because of how much weight they gave to the four items I just listed. And that amounts to a simple difference in philosophy. So if either of you would care to explain why you've put greater weight on one side or the other, I encourage you to do so. I'm just pointing out that both good and bad exists in the same product.

Your Racist Friend said...

I didn't necessarily say that the good outweighed the alleged bad. I called into question the bad in the first place. If Kazakhstan's tourism is up, can they REALLY call a legitimate foul on Cohen? Most of the Americans in the film are upset with Cohen because he exploited their intolerance, their racism, their sexist attitudes.....and that's ok, as far as I'm concerned. If he was just randomly picking on people, it would be a different story, but it's not. But the question is this: can somebody truly "exploit" racism? I don't think that what he does in the movie fits in with the definition of "exploitation".

And Hession, while it's good that you've done your homework, all you've done is the Cliff Notes version of it, without seeing the movie. You can read about, say, A Farewell To Arms, or any other book or movie, but if you haven't actually seen it, there's a big credibility gap.
Stormy, Particle, Wicked, nothign to add?

Your Racist Friend said...

And Hession, I have to ask, out of curiousity: Can you provide me with examples of what you think is the world suppressing Christianity?

(Not the US, that separation of church and state thing, plus the founding father's attitudes towards Christianity kind of speacks for itself.)

J. P. Hession said...

Hmm...interesting, Dr. Worm. I think that this sort of values clarification is helpful in some cases, but is not appropriate in others. Permit me two examples:

Example 1:
An American citizen must choose between two candidates running for president.

Example 2:
An artist is contemplating whether or not to construct a giant, nuclear waste producing figurine of Charlie Sheen.

In the first example, it seem reasonable to apply your philosophy when choosing a candidate, because there are two choices, and one of them must be made. The citizen must weigh the good and bad from both candidates and choose the candidate that's better (the lesser of two evils or the greater of two goods).

However, in the second example it does not seem appropriate to apply your philosophy of weighing the good and the bad and judging the existence of something on whether there is more good or more bad in it, because there is a valid third choice, which is to not create the figurine at all, whereas there is no option to not have a president.

So many people will come and see the figurine and laugh and enjoy it,and the city will see additional revenue in tourism, but the nuclear waste will injure many people over a long period of time.
The choice is not between the lesser of two evils, but between creating nothing or creating a certain amount of bad with a certain amount of good.

So with the Borat movie. If P is our judgement of it, and X is the bad and Y is the good, then your philosophy suggests:

P = Y - X

This would apply to the presidents. President 1 would be:

P1 = Y1 - X1

and President 2 would be:

P2 = Y2 - X2

And your choice would be:

C = Max(P1, P2)


However, with Borat, the equations are really:

P1 = (X + Y)

and

P2 = NULL

In other words, you either choose to create nothing or you choose to create a certain amount of good and bad together.

So I don't really agree with just subtracting the bad X from the good Y in this case, because a valid option is to not create the good and the bad.

When someone has a particular good in mind, in Borat's case to make people laugh and expose racisim and prejudice, I think their task should be to minimize X and maximize Y. In other words, make the least bad possible and the most good possible. As an equation:

P = Max(Y) + Min(X), where X is as close to 0 as possible.

So, this last equation being my philosophy on whether a movie is good, Borat fails miserably, because it not only tried to maximize Y, but it did it in a way that maximizes X. Surely there were better ways to make someone laugh and expose racism than by using his methods?

We may disagree on these philosophies, but Hopefully I have explained my analysis clearly. I appreciate that you clearly expressed yours. I think I am able to see how you are approaching the movie. So my comment is that the approach I have suggested seems more appropriate since there is the ability to not make it at all.

Your Racist Friend said...

You have got to be joking me. You CANNOT use math to argue art. That's misdirection!

J. P. Hession said...

The World Supressing Christianity...

Just a few because I have a meeting in a minute:

1. The Chinese and Russian Governments

2. The Islamic Governments and religious leaders

3. The European Union, including its written charters and constitution

4. The United Nations, including its written charters and constitution

5. The American media

6. The American Feminist movement

7. The ACLU


There's more of course.

Your Racist Friend said...

Hession, I think I've figured out what bugs me about your point of view: You seem to think that art is always supposed to be responsible, but it's really not.

It's said that you can't please all the people all the time, and this principle is doubly powerful when it comes to art. Art is based on emotion, and emotions aren't necessarily rational, responsible, or right. SHOULD art be responsible? It would be nice, but I don't see any real obligation to it. Also, the burden of proof towards determining whether of not art is responsible indeed. Using Borat as an example:

-Some people think that SBC portrayed them in an ill light. Ok, they have that right.

-SBC, a (youngish) man so orthodox that he won't use the phone on the (Jewish) Sabbath, probably feels that he's doing the world a favor by portraying Anti-Semitism in such an ill light.

Arrgh, I REALLY need to get my hands on that new Rolling Stone! I think that would shed some light on the issues here.

And on an unrelated note, we've hit more responses for a TMBC post ever! :D

Your Racist Friend said...

And I don't think it's fair to include Muslims in that list Hession.....to call The Crusades a huge act of prickishness is putting it pretty mildly. I know it was a very, very long time ago, but people have long memories.

Here are some excerpts from the Rolling Stone website of Sascha's interview.

When Baron Cohen first heard that the Kazakh government was thinking of suing him and placing a full-page ad promoting the country in The New York Times, he was editing his movie in Los Angeles. His reaction: "I was surprised, because I always had faith in the audience that they would realize that this was a fictitious country and the mere purpose of it was to allow people to bring out their own prejudices. And the reason we chose Kazakhstan was because it was a country that no one had heard anything about, so we could essentially play on stereotypes they might have about this ex-Soviet backwater. The joke is not on Kazakhstan. I think the joke is on people who can believe that the Kazakhstan that I describe can exist -- who believe that there's a country where homosexuals wear blue hats and the women live in cages and they drink fermented horse urine and the age of consent has been raised to nine years old."

"Borat essentially works as a tool," Baron Cohen says. "By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it's anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. 'Throw the Jew Down the Well' [a song performed at a country & western bar during Da Ali G Show] was a very controversial sketch, and some members of the Jewish community thought that it was actually going to encourage anti-Semitism. But to me it revealed something about that bar in Tucson. And the question is: Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism.

Your Racist Friend said...

Ok, in an attempt to get this discussion a bit more focused, let me go wayyyy back to Hession's original comment.

"The poor Romanian village that they exploit to portray his nation as prostitutes and abortionists is probably the worst offense."

Hession, when you say "his village", who exactly are you referring to?

Wicked Little Critta said...

Incredible conversation here. I don't really want to see the movie, but I wish I had more to contribute...
Anyway, in general I agree that math cannot give value to art. I mean, the variables involved in the expression and appreciation of art are so subjective...I guess my question is, are any of the variables in this case definitively measurable? At least two of them: humor and challenging viewpoints, do not seem to be.

Dr. Worm said...

Leaving aside for now the comments about the oppression of Christianity for now, I have to say that I agree with your disagreement with me, Hession, but that's because I didn't really feel like it was a disagreement.

My argument was intended as a discussion of means and ends, and I fully agree with you that, if the total bad in means and ends outweighs the total good, then whatever it is (a movie in this case) shouldn't be made. The same weighing of bad and good occurs explicitly in an example such as choosing a presidential candidate, but it's really present in nearly every decision we make. Some are clear-cut, some are less so.

However, Borat has already been made. We do not have the option--unlike the example of the Charlie Sheen statue--of not making it. All we can do, at this point, on this board, is judge it as good or bad. If we judge it as good, we'll likely conclude that Baron Cohen was right in making it; if we judge it as bad, we'll likely conclude that Baron Cohen was wrong in making it, that it shouldn't have been made.

But I agree with your point that, in doing anything, one should try to maximize the good and minimize the bad. I also agree that, in some cases, even if the good side of the equation is greater than the bad side, the greater option still is to do nothing--to forego the good to prevent the bad.

Right now, we're getting into the classic deontological vs. utilitarian view of ethics. Utilitarians would say that you judge things based on how much harm and good they do, and if the overall equation leads to more good, then the action is good. Proponents of the deontological view would say that it doesn't matter how much good one does, if part of doing that good involves doing bad, it's still bad.

In practice, most humans usually fall somewhere in between these two extremes, but different people tend to lean one way or another.

I should wrap this up; I'm rambling and getting off topic. But I feel like we're at least starting to come to an agreement at least in terms of the elements involved and how we weigh them.

J. P. Hession said...

"SHOULD art be responsible?"

Mr. Racist, I do believe you have found the question that is very much at the crux of our difference of opinion.

I'm off to Colorado for a week...so I'm out for awhile.

Anonymous said...

I'm not the type to spend much time contemplating about the suffering of some Romanian villagers. But if you ask me, this discussion alone was worth any suffering they might have had because of Borat.

I also feel I have to add a comment about "the suppression of Christianity". I cannot believe such comments were seriously written. Hession, whoever you are, I hope you have a good time in Colorado, because you made me pis* my pants laughing.

Your Racist Friend said...

Nice try Hession, but no banana. Trying to make it look like I'm advocating lack of responsibility?

*buzzer sound*

Ehhh, wrong. Let me clarify, since I obviously need to phrase everything in terms a kindergartener would understand to avoid being misinterpreted. As long as their work isn't deliberately hateful, racist, or destructive, the only responsibility an artist has is to be true to themselves.

You really, really need to build your arguing chops. Just casually glancing at the comments on this thread, I see you using several common fallacies of logic including:

Faulty emotional appeals,

"Is it really worth the exploitation, humiliation, and misdirection that the filmakers go through to make you laugh? Why aren't more people ashamed and outraged at this rotgut?"

Begging the question,

"I will say that (from what I have heard) he has indeed constructed a clever satire. However, I will say that (from what I have heard), it is tasteless and exploitive."

(To clarify, you're presenting that there's a hard definition for what is good or bad taste.....taste is subjective.)

Non Sequitur,

"So with the Borat movie. If P is our judgement of it, and X is the bad and Y is the good, then your philosophy suggests:

P = Y - X

This would apply to the presidents. President 1 would be:

P1 = Y1 - X1

and President 2 would be:

P2 = Y2 - X2

And your choice would be:

C = Max(P1, P2)


However, with Borat, the equations are really:

P1 = (X + Y)

and

P2 = NULL"

Faulty use of authority,

"and second of all, I have studied this issue far more than you can imagine, and it is you who are speaking without the facts to assume I know nothing about it. I have concluded through much, much research and thought that my opinions regarding the matter are the most positive for humanity and the most true...and I haven't even told you what those opinions are...you just assumed incorrectly that I was a bigot."

Now, to clarify, what issue is this exactly that you supposedly know way more about than me? Step back and look at that statement for a minute....does it seem at least a bit arrogant? In terms of hard facts, what do you absolutely, positively know about me that would qualify you to make such a hasty generalization?

Your Racist Friend said...

Quick correction to my last post: The statement of Hession's that I labeled as a non sequitur does kind of fall under that category, but it's really more of a false metaphor.

jbodster said...

Uuuuum, I thought Borat was hysterical and no movie has ever made me laugh that hard. YRF, I thought your review was great. I could say more but I think I'll leave it at that because, after reading all the heated comments/reactions above, I'm too scared.

Your Racist Friend said...

Haha, fire away Jbod. I can take it, since I was, ummm, decaffeinated before. Yeah, that's it.....

J. P. Hession said...

"Now, to clarify, what issue is this exactly that you supposedly know way more about than me?"

Umm...I didn't say I know way more than yo about it, I said I know more about it than you realize I know about it. Stop twisting my words. And, no, my logic is not full of fallacies, but It's worthless to argue about it. I don't know why someone would discount my comments simply because they partly appeal to emotions as well as logic.

Dr. Worm said...

Welcome back, Hession. I trust you had a good time in Colorado.

If I may, I'd like to draw this conversation a bit away from Borat, and a bit away from its current direction, and try to get to the heart of the matter. As I've mentioned before, I think both you and YRF are capable of making strong arguments in favor of your points of view, so I'd like to get to what I see to be the heart of things.

I believe what YRF meant, when he wrote that you have a "history on these boards of standing in judgement," he means you have a history of standing in MORAL judgment. V for Vendetta, The Departed, and Borat are the three examples we have where you've disapproved of a movie for moral reasons.

Now I'm not calling into question your right to judge the morality of movies. If Birth of a Nation were re-released, for example, we'd probably all be condemning it's inherent racism.

But what puts some of us off is the pattern. The visceral reaction, when a person impugns the morality of something you happen to enjoy, is to say, "Where does he get off?"

To put it more mildly, what makes you confident enough in your understanding of what is morally right and wrong to decry three films that most of us found morally acceptable?

Your Racist Friend said...

Nice try, Hession, but AGAIN you didn't answer the question. So...let me rephrase to take your reply into consideration: What issue is it you're
referring to that you've done more research into than I gave you credit for?

J. P. Hession said...

Worm:
"What makes you confident enough in your understanding of what is morally right and wrong to decry three films that most of us found morally acceptable?"

My confidence is evident because my moral compass is not my own at all, but rather, that of our Creator's. If it was up to me, I'd get it wrong all the time, but to the extent that my moral judgements are those of our Creators, they will be correct and I will be confident in them.

Racist: "What issue is it you're
referring to that you've done more research into than I gave you credit for?"

Homosexuality. That's what you were charging my ignorance regarding.

Particle Man said...

(sigh...) do you not realize, Hession, that by saying your judgement is not yours but our Creator's, you have also said that because our judgement does not match yours, it is therefore not our Creator's, and is in fact in opposition to our Creator's? did you actually mean to say that?

Dr. Worm said...

I'm seconding Particle Man's comment, Hession. And I'll add to it. Your answer to my question provokes the same question: What makes you confident that you arguments are our Creator's arguments?

Stormy Pinkness said...

Excuse me hession, I have not participated in this conversation because I have not seen the movie and therefore was not equipped to critique it. However, when I am personally offendd I feel I must jump in. I am a christian and you seem to be saying that you are a better one than me, because you know God's moral judgements and you share them. You know what they are not your moral judgements to make, they are God's and I don't think you should impugn his children who differ in opinions from you.
Also how do you do research into homosexuality? The closest I have come is spending time with my cousin and his boyfriend who are two of the greatest guys ever. I think this comes down to knowing your audience before you make statements, If you hate the idea of homosexuality fine that is your decision, but please do not call into question my devotion to God and salvation while doing it.

P.S. There is a reason my name is Stormy Pinkness ;).

Your Racist Friend said...

"My confidence is evident because my moral compass is not my own at all, but rather, that of our Creator's. If it was up to me, I'd get it wrong all the time, but to the extent that my moral judgements are those of our Creators, they will be correct and I will be confident in them."

That is hands down, the most arrogant comment I've ever read on a blog. You presume to speak for God? That's a step away from delusion.

And Stormy Pinkness is right, you don't RESEARCH homosexuality. It is not a disease, it's (probably) a genetic predisposition. And what people do in the privacy of their bedroom doesn't matter, as long as it doesn't involve children or animals. The only reason it's a big deal to some people in the first place is because they can't mind their own business. You can read about, say, The Seven Samurai for example. Read plot synopses, get your hands on every scene dissection you can, but you haven't truly experienced it until you seen it.....the method through which it was meant to be experienced. Unless you know somebody who's gay, and know what it costs them, what they get out of it, you don't have a leg to stand on regarding that topic. You can pitch that all you want, but nobody's buying that. You have zero credibility to speak on the issue. So.....don't.

Particle Man said...

hang on, YRF. you don't know that Hession doesn't know anyone who is gay. frankly, neither do i. his credibility is in question till we know one way or the other, and that can only come with him telling us. so... Hession, now would be the time to respond.

J. P. Hession said...

Wow...there is a lot to respond to here. I'll take them one at a time I guess.

Particle Man:
"did you actually mean to say that?"

Yes.

Dr. Worm:
"What makes you confident that your arguments are our Creator's arguments?"

Firstly, here is my main argument as expressed in one of my posts:

"Someone trying to exploit America's racism and bigotry by exploiting everyone in their path, often by outright lying about what they're up to is just plain wrong and not at all funny."

I say it is our Creator's argument from:

Exodus 20:16 - You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Leviticus 19:11 - Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.

Proverbs 22:22a - Do not exploit the poor because they are poor. (I was connecting this with the Romanian villagers)

etc...

Stormie Pinkness:
"I am a christian and you seem to be saying that you are a better one than me, because you know God's moral judgements and you share them."

Stormie, I'm not saying I'm a better Christian. I was very careful in my words. I said that, to the extent that my judgements are the judgements of God, then they are correct. So to the extent that they are not His judgements, they are not correct. I am simply saying that God's Word is the final and ultimate authority on judging morality, and to the extent that I have correctly relayed those commands, I am confident that they are correct, because they came from the Creator, not from me. I am not implying anything about you or me as a Christian.

"I don't think you should impugn his children who differ in opinions from you."

I'm not impugning. We are having a discussion about whether or not the moral claims I have expressed are true. It is good and right for us to express God's moral claims as they relate to a situation. That's not impugning, it is meant to encourage and edify and speak truth to a world that has rejected God's morals.

"Also how do you do research into homosexuality? The closest I have come is spending time with my cousin and his boyfriend who are two of the greatest guys ever. I think this comes down to knowing your audience before you make statements, If you hate the idea of homosexuality fine that is your decision, but please do not call into question my devotion to God and salvation while doing it."

Ok...I have tried to be fair in my critiques and tried to put words in people's mouths, but I don't think I've been getting the same treatment here. When did I ever call your salvation into question? When did I ever say that I hate the idea of homosexuality? I haven't even said anything about it yet. All I have done is state that I have researched it and come to some conclusions about it...I haven't even said what those were...and I certainly didn't call your salvation into question or suggest that homosexual people were not nice people.

Your Racist Friend:
"You presume to speak for God? That's a step away from delusion."

I am not speaking for God. He has spoken for Himself in the Bible. There is nothing delusional about relaying His words to others. In fact, we are called to do that as Christians. And as I said, to the extent that my judgements are not His as revealed in His Word, they SHOULD be rejected.

"you don't RESEARCH homosexuality. It is not a disease, it's (probably) a genetic predisposition."

Uhh...and how did people come to the conclusion that it's a genetic predisposition? By research. And yes, I do research it. Things that are not personally experienced can only be researched.

"And what people do in the privacy of their bedroom doesn't matter, as long as it doesn't involve children or animals."

See...everyone has some moral standard somewhere. We just happen to draw the line at different places.

"You have zero credibility to speak on the issue. So.....don't."

The only thing I have said is to respond to you saying I have no credibility to speak on to the issue. I haven't even spoken to it but to say that I believe things about it based on my research, to which you said, how dare I believe things about it when I know nothing about it, to which I said I know something about it, to which you said, no you don't..how dare you say anything about it...you have no credibility, to which I am saying I haven't said anything but that I know something.

Particle Man said...

you didn't answer my question, Hession. do you actually know anyone who is gay? someone you've had multiple conversations with, and are at least on a cordial level with?

Stormy Pinkness said...

Hession at one point in the V for Vendetta reviews you described homsexuality as a vile lifestyle. That is where I got that from.

Your Racist Friend said...

What Stormy said. And scientific research can tell us scientific things about homosexuality, it can't support any moral opinions. And citing the Bible doesn't support the argument that the villagers were "exploited". Nobody forced them to do anything, and they were paid is, I think, double the expected rate for extras in Romania. I will say the thing with the handless guy at the end with his new "arm" that Borat brings back for him is a bit harsh, but there are way, too many holes in the Romanian's stories....and the fact that the lawsuit was talked about a week after the movie was a "great success!" rather than beforehand reeks of opportunism.

J. P. Hession said...

hrmm..

Particle Man:
"you didn't answer my question, Hession. do you actually know anyone who is gay? someone you've had multiple conversations with, and are at least on a cordial level with?"

Yes. Several. One lived with us for awhile and we're still friends.

Stormie:
"Hession at one point in the V for Vendetta reviews you described homsexuality as a vile lifestyle. That is where I got that from."

I called Mr/(Mrs?) Wachowski's relationship vile. That is entirely different from calling homosexuals vile. For one thing, I am talking about a the relationship, not the person themselves, and for another thing, Mr/(Mrs?) Wachowski is quite different from homosexual, but rather, transgender dominatric (if that's a word). So I am calling such a relationship vile, which is not the same as calling the person vile. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

Racist friend:
"And scientific research can tell us scientific things about homosexuality, it can't support any moral opinions."

I'm not trying to support moral opinions with science. I support moral opinions with the Bible and other opinions with their respective sciences, in this case, sociology and biology mostly.

"And citing the Bible doesn't support the argument that the villagers were "exploited"."

If you would like to discuss this on fair terms it's important for you to be correct in your accusations. I absolutely did not use the Bible to support the argument that the villagers were exploited. That's completely false. I used totally other forms of reasoning and research to conclude that they were exploited. What I used the Bible for was to support the argument that exploitation is wrong.

Particle Man said...

thanks, Hession. NOW you have credibility. and i'm not sure this really matters, because it was so long ago, but your statements in your V for Vendetta post did not give even a whisper of the transgender/dominatrix thing. in fact, the only indication you even gave of Mr. Wachowski being gay was the parenthetical Mrs. before his name, which you made sound like a snarky devaluing of his being gay, perhaps that "gay men act like women, so why not call a Mr. a Mrs.?" if you perceived his transgender lifestyle to be "vile," and you wanted to decry that, you should have said that in a way that could not have so easily been misconstrued. with the words you chose, it sounded like "gay people are yucky."

Your Racist Friend said...

Yeah, vague= misinterpretation on blogs. That's a lot more clear. I had the feeling Hession was referring to Wachoski's kink, but wasn't sure. I think his greatest sin was taking all the money from the first Matrix, spending it up his nose, and giving us the abortions that were the 2nd and 3rd Matrix movies.

And I'm not saying that personal beliefs have no place on this board, but.....this is a movie blog, not a Christian movie blog. Yes, the 5 members of TMBC happen to be born-again Christians, but we're not reviewing movies from the perspective of what the Bible tells us what to do. And not everythign in the Bible is definitive. Does anybody here REALLY think that women should shave their heads of cover their hair, or be branded prostitutes?You might disagree with the fact that we review films with a certain amount of autonomy, but there it is. Also, when you claim that your moral compass is perfectly aligned with God's, aren't you courting blasphemy? Or at least a dengerous amount of pride?

Wicked Little Critta said...

The way I see it, I don't necessarily think that we can come to an agreement here, because at least 2 of us have differing views on the Bible. From what I have read so far, you, Hession, tend to fall into the "Bible is inerrant" camp. Or something like that. Basically, taking it more literally than I do, or some other members of TMBC. So, until one side decides to change his or her view of Bible interpretation, it seems we're at an impasse.
But feel free to argue, anyway. ;)

J. P. Hession said...

Racist Friend:
"Yes, the 5 members of TMBC happen to be born-again Christians, but we're not reviewing movies from the perspective of what the Bible tells us what to do."

To some extent the Bible plays a part in my judgement of a movie. I have no qualms about that. It is who I am and the Bible frames how I think. I'm not going to disassociate myself from what I believe is true when reviewing a movie. There is no sense in that to me.

"Also, when you claim that your moral compass is perfectly aligned with God's, aren't you courting blasphemy?"

I did not claim my moral compass was perfectly aligned. Why do I have to keep explaining this? I said that to the extent that it aligns with God's Word I have confidence that it's true. If someone showed me that an interpretation of Scripture was not true, I would cease to have confidence in the particular judgement that came out of a faulty understanding.

Wicked Little Critta:
"From what I have read so far, you, Hession, tend to fall into the "Bible is inerrant" camp. Or something like that. Basically, taking it more literally than I do, or some other members of TMBC. So, until one side decides to change his or her view of Bible interpretation, it seems we're at an impasse."

You are correct on my view of the Bible, but there is no reason we have to agree on the Bible in order for me to freely express my opinions about a movie WHEREVER those opinions were shaped from.

jbodster said...

My curiosity (not to mention amusement) is stronger than my fear of expressing an opinion here... Hession, referring back to something you stated much, much earlier... how exactly is the American Feminist movement opressing Christianity? I was absolutely intrigued by this statement....

J. P. Hession said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr. Worm said...

It's true, Hession, that you absolutely have the right to express your opinion on any topic regardless of what shaped the formation of that opinion. Just as we have the right to challenge those opinions if we disagree with them or the logic that underpins them.

And therein lies WLC's impasse. If we question your moral judgments because we question their underpinnings, we have no choice but to then examine their underpinnings. And that's what's led us to discussions of biblical literalism, where, unless Hession can convince of his view, or one of us can convince him of ours, we will get stuck.

But I don't think we're stuck yet. Some of us are convinced that the Bible is inerrant; others of us are convinced that it's not. Each of us have reasons for believing as we do, and perhaps by sharing these reasons we can come to a greater understanding.

So, Hession, Particle Man, Your Racist Friend, Wicked Little Critta, Stormy Pinkness, and--if you're still reading--Moshe, tell us all why you've come to the conclusion you have about the nature of the Bible?

J. P. Hession said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
J. P. Hession said...

I don't think that discussion is relevent.

Instead of me exhaustively explaining and defending every opinion I have about a movie, it might be better if those challenging me so harshly could instead just skip over my reviews if they hate them so much and follow their own advice and keep this a movie review blog.

Your Racist Friend said...

Well, for starters Hession, you could express your opinions in a less histrionic manner. The only real problem I have with your original post, dispite any disagreements I have with your point of view, is when you conclude it with "For shame!" You say that you're not trying to come across as preachy or to put yourself above others, but that is countered by the language and tone of your posts. The six most dangerous words in the English language, especially when heard in a bar, are, "You think you're better than me?" You all but beg people to ask you that question with your posts that reek of moral superiority on your part. And if you don't like the opinions being challenged on this board? Don't post, it's that simple. When you get into a debate about something with me, you need to bring your "A" game, and at least argue your points of view well, instead of relying on misdirection and faulty emotional appeals, or even worse, "moral" grandstanding. Otherwise, I won't relent. It's nothing personal against you, it's the way I view debate on these boards. Something to keep the mind sharp.

So to keep this on track towards the
movie, what did you read or see which led you to the conclusion that the Romanian village was exploited?

Your Racist Friend said...

And you've got a lot of cheek, suggesting that an established member of this blog to "keep this a movie review blog", after your first post condemned the intentions of the filmmaker when YOU HADN'T SEEN THE MOVIE IN THE FIRST PLACE. And you wonder why I take your point of view less than seriously?

J. P. Hession said...

Racist Friend:
"The only real problem I have with your original post...is when you conclude it with 'For shame!'
You say that you're not trying to come across as preachy or to put yourself above others, but that is countered by the language and tone of your posts."

I think words are being put in my mouth again, though not intentionally this time. When did I ever say that I'm not trying to come across as preachy or put myself before others? What I said is that I'm not calling myself a better Christian than someone else. Clearly when I say "for shame" I am in some way, preaching. And I did it deliberately because my personal opinion is that an admonition was called for. I am not doing anything different from the times you are preachy, and I accept that it's part of dialog, and it's perfectly apropos if related to the movie. Besides, I reject the notion that making a confident moral statement is an attempt to put oneself above others. It is simply what I believe is true, and it was applied specifically within the context of the movie being discussed. Also, the fact that others disagree with me does not mean I'm trying to say I'm better than them. I would much prefer they agree with my assessment of said shame. So my saying what I say is only histrionic because people are unneccesarily making it that way. I think histrionic or judging could fairly describe some of your comments:

"I have no sympathy for anybody dumb enough to spout racist/anti-Semitic sentiment on camera, as people did many times on the Ali G show, and in the film."

If you can do it I should be able to as well. The problem is not that my posts are guided by a moral compass, but that others here are unwilling to respect that my opinions are guided by a moral compass, agree or disagree, and move on. Getting offending by what I say because it is morally guided is not needed. And disallowing me to make moral judgements while you feel free to do it yourself is also not fair.

"And you've got a lot of cheek, suggesting that an established member of this blog to "keep this a movie review blog", after your first post condemned the intentions of the filmmaker when YOU HADN'T SEEN THE MOVIE IN THE FIRST PLACE. And you wonder why I take your point of view less than seriously?"

In fairness, I discussed what I felt about the film being discussed and condemned the filmmaker for making the film being discussed. That sounds pretty on topic to the film being discussed to me. I think my comment that this becomes less of a thread about the movie is pretty accurate.

I have received many judgemental and name-calling posts which have their own sense of "moral superiority" implied and which basically communicate "for shame":

"Yeah, Hession likes to make half-assed, ill-informed points on this board, then become oddly silent when challenged on a point. Nothing new under the sun."

"You have got to be joking me. You CANNOT use math to argue art. That's misdirection!"

(Nevermind that logic is in it's nature very direct and visible and can be shown to be flawed if it is.)

Anyway, these are the kinds of posts that keep this a movie blog:

"what did you read or see which led you to the conclusion that the Romanian village was exploited?"

Consequently, though, I think we've already discussed this.

Your Racist Friend said...

"Consequently, though, I think we've already discussed this."

No, you haven't discussed that aspect. You've said that you've come to the conclusion that the village was exploited, but cited no examples to demonstrate how you came to that conclusion. As long as you keep making half-baked arguments with no supporting details, I'm going to call you on it.

And if you're going to defend your position on certain things being preachy? Good. Seriously, I applaud you knowing the position you're taking, and sticking to it. Having said that, you should be prepared to defend your position, because people are going to occasionally disagree. And if you have a problem with that? Tough. It's part of blogging.

Dr. Worm said...

All right, I think it's time to call a cease-fire.

Comments are starting to be about each other, rather than about the movie or anything related to the movie, and clearly this dialogue has reached such a heated nature that progress is unlikely.

Perhaps greater progress could be made if the dialogue was moved to a different forum or format.

Your Racist Friend said...

Sure. Any ideas?

Dr. Worm said...

Ideas? Sure.

1. Interested parties could create another blog, wherein the topic could revolve around the subject of movie criticism itself: How do we go about judging a movie, what factors are fair game, and what forces shape our judgments? That will broaden our topic from, simply, Borat, and give us a much more user-friendly interface than these restrictive comment boxes.

2. An email dialogue could be arranged. Either
A) Separate, one-on-one conversations with the person(s) you'd like to speak with. Or
B) A mass email format, where anyone can chime in whenever. I kind of like option one more than option two, since, in a blog setting, interested parties would be allowed to observe the unfolding drama without feeling a need to participate in it.

3. If everyone desires it, we could organize a face-to-face meeting.

Your Racist Friend said...

Hmmmmmm. I like the idea of a face-to-face meeting.

Stormy Pinkness said...

Hession,
I will agree with your assessment that my comments may have been far beyond what was called for. I tend to do that, which is why they put Stormy in my name, I tend to blow small things out of proportion. We obviously do not see eye to eye on these issues but I hope I have been respectful in my critiques because that is how this blog was imagined. We are a group of people who tend to think somewhat alike. However. you have brought in a different view that is taking a while to get used to, I do appreciate our differences in opinion they make things fun and I look forward to debating with you again.

J. P. Hession said...

indeed